Sunday, February 28, 2016

Why dance classes have little to do with dance

This is Part III in a series on the Eight Elements of Movement . . .
See the links at the bottom of this post for part I & II and a review of the Eight Elements.

As small children and as we develop we take no special classes to be able to walk, crawl, climb, or dance.  We are helped along in our development, but mostly we just crawl when we need to, and if we hear music for the first time, we move to the music without having ever seen anyone dance.  The ability to move without instruction to music is truly amazing.  And this is why dance classes for adults are in reality "grace classes."  Dance is something we already are hardwired to do.  If classes were truly about dance, the instructor would put on music and let you re-experience what it was like to be a child again--remember the things you may have forgotten which are still inside of you.

What if tango classes were dance classes?
In tango, I would expect "dance" class instructors to put on some music for beginning or experienced dancers and see how they react exactly to the music's dynamics, pulse and rhythmic intricacies. The teacher would ask, "How did you show the dynamic of getting louder through your movement, the crescendo?  Were you on tempo? Were you stretching the time or phasing with the vocalist?  Are you allowing the music to move your body?" Now, my friends, that would be a dance class!  I am not disparaging "grace" instructors.  What we often need and get are grace classes.  Unfortunately we misname them "dance classes."  Thereby we forget what dance really is:  The connection and reaction of your body to the music.

"Grace Classes" are cool
When I take a private lesson, I get great instruction on grace.  I very much need grace classes because dancing is actually my problem.  I am learning to reign in my delight of the music to make sure that my partner is fully balanced on her weight-bearing leg before attempting the next step.  I have learned how to be more graceful in my embrace too. I know that there is nothing more powerful for the resiliency of the human mind than dance, but that without grace, dance has far less power. Dancing has always been great fun and psychologically regenerative for me.  But every step forward with gracefulness in dance has exponentially raised the "fun factor" for me and my confidant partners who tell me about my dance.

As I have suggested in parts I & II of the Eight Elements of Music, I repeat here:  Use all movement to give you psychological balance and resiliency.  Runners, run too much.  Walkers walk too much.  Swimmers swim too much, and, of course, dancers dance too much.  Use all the movements to find resiliency.  The list of the Eight Elements of Movement are below.

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A review of this series on movement's healing properties:

"Dance: One of the Eight Elements of Dance,"
A focus on how important dance is as
the pinnacle of the Eight Elements of Movement. 

"The Eight Elements of Movement and Psychological Well-Being,"
A Focus on how each Element can be used for emotional resiliency.
Part III (above) was on the distinction of grace from the movement itself.

Part IV, the last of the series, will discuss how "performance grace" will not lead to psychological resiliency.

Photo credit at top:  Girl dancing in the rain.

The Eight Elements of Movement
by Mark Word*
The Eight

Resiliency of Grace
Child development examples

Life spawns in the seas.
Swimming creates weightlessness and forces discipline of breathing.  Some people do not feel well if they do not swim regularly. Swimming brings resiliency. Swimming is our return to the womb, the return to the seas, our last freedom of movement in our old age. Relearn to be a master swimmer now before you are forced into the pool in your old age as a beginner. 
(1) In-womb swimming.

(2) Natural or taught swimming.

(3) Swimming becomes the last and best exercise modality for the elderly.


Evolution: Amphibious Life.
Crawling around is usually only practiced with children. Try crawling on a rug like a snake but on your back.  It’s a great back rub and regenerates the mind.  Here are some more ideas on crawling.

The first freedom of movement for a child.

Climbing to safety.
Climbing has been shown to help adults have far more short-term memory and focus after a climbing session.  

Toddlers climbing up before walking.

Breaking from our primate ancestors.
The walking meditation can be a spiritual practice or a simply a way to deal with stress. Many rely on a walk to regenerate their mental capacities, to make decisions, calm nervousness, renovate the soul.   Chan Park writes about tango as being a walking meditation for two in his book.  Zen Tango.

The most important development for independence/ mobility for children.

Survival through the ability to evade danger or hunt by rapid synchronization of movements.
The "runner's high" is the term we know about psychological well-being.  Much different than walking, now synchronization creates a new level of need for grace. 

The runner’s high, I believe, may not have anything to do with exercise but with the power of graceful movement!
I have completed 14 marathons, and I am now certain that movement and not exercise per se--is what brings well-being.

Coordination of multiple motor abilities.
The Eight

Resiliency of Grace
Child development examples
Survival Movements

Hunting, defending, eating, preening, making/using instruments (tools), self-/other-care.
Tai chi and other slow moving martial arts are now mostly practiced because of well-being. Even yoga, includes “Warrior stances 1-5” and other movements, which create a calming of the racing/worrying mind.  Tai chi is a great "cross training" for tango by the way. My friend and master tango teacher Daniela Arcuri, suggested that students of tai chi who started tango were automatically ahead of all other beginners. 

Playful fighting develops to self-protection. 

Being cared for develops to self-care in hygiene, eating, preening, etc.

Communication through social intercourse, including: Gestures, posture, stances, courtship, and sexual communication.
Movement for purposes of conveying meaning create resiliency for those interacting. Perhaps the most powerful social communication is the embrace, but can include even a light touch on the arm, a hand shake, even a stance that shows positive communication to another person.  People who hug and are hugged more often have more robust immune systems.  (Also explained here.)  Facial movements create   hundreds of messages for those near you.  A powerful research with teens showed that they were remarkably better off with their parents once they received light touches when communicating with their parents.

Movements that convey with increasing sophistication how   to be a part of a group and to convey what one wants.

The somatic response to internal or external musical stimuli. The thinking animal, needs music to survive.  Unlike what many (non-dancing?) scientists believe, I think our need to process great sorrow or joy is why we have retained this apparently "unimportant" skill and capacity that other animals do not possess.

This is it. The pinnacle of resiliency movements.  It is therefore worth every bit of your effort to dance with grace.  But do it for yourself.  Much of “graceful” movement is focused outside of the body through performance--a focus on others watching.  Grace belongs to you and how it feels.  Opening the embrace opens possibilities in movement, true, but have you lost your internal reason for grace? 

Learn more about meditative dance here. I highly suggest dance resiliency that does not require a partner or a milonga.  It is highly unlikely that the milonga you love will be around in thirty years, but your need to dance will not have changed.  Meditative dance will survive any popular dance style, including (sadly) tango.

The child’s unlearned somatic response to music.  Pure dance, at times started in the womb or early experiences with rhythm.  If hands "dance" on the drum or fingers on a keyboard, then music and dance are inextricably the same connection to the music.

Dancing may include symbolic movements from any of the 7 elements above, especially social communication, survival movements and walking.

* The Eight Elements of Movement are categories that I have created.  I have not found them in research literature.  

**Survival movements are hunting, defending, etc.  Many dance movements are symbolic of preening, hunting and defending.  For example, these movements would be to jump, spin, throw, kick, spin, grab, and swing.  Survival movements also in tool/instrument making.  Stances (paused movements) are also important for survival.

***Social behaviors included, gestures/stances depicting meaning, sexual intercourse, other non-verbal behavior.  A subcategory is Self-/other-care: Touch, rock, preen, food preparation, embrace, carry. spin, throw, kick, spin, grab, and swinging.

A note about stances: 
These paused movements are, for example: standing, sliding, lying down, crouching, siting, swinging, diving, and with inventions and tools--riding, flying, biking, surfing, skiing, skating, etc.  The stances are a "meta-element," pauses of apparent non-movement found in all of the 8 Elements.